Artists in residence

Andrew Stewart with his family at his home in Harrogate.
Andrew Stewart with his family at his home in Harrogate.
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This large home was run down when Gillian and Andrew Stewart bought it, but now it is an ever-changing work of art. Sharon Dale reports.

Most of us stick with the same decor for years before we bother to alter it, but for Gillian and Andrew Stewart the scenery in their home is forever changing.

They share their sensational, three-storey house in Harrogate with hundreds of works of contemporary art, hung on the walls, sitting on shelves and stacked on the stairs.

It’s sensory overload for the hyper visual and even those who wouldn’t know an Ikea print from a Tracey Emin morph into Brian Sewell when they visit. They can’t help expressing opinions and involuntary “oohs and aaahs”as they shuffle very slowly from room to room.

Even a trip to the loo takes forever as the pictures on the landing demand attention and then the Marielle Mackman paintings in the bathroom must be admired once the visitor has got upstairs.

Those who know their stuff will recognise that while scores of artists are represented, Joash Woodrow is favoured.

That’s because Andrew, who owns 108 Fine Art Gallery in Harrogate, was instrumental in bringing the reclusive artist’s work to the world.

He first spotted the talent when a friend showed him some of Joash’s drawings that had turned up in a local bookshop.

“I couldn’t get them out of my head. I knew this was a trained hand,” says Andrew, who tracked the artist down.

Joash had moved to sheltered accommodation following a fire at his house in Leeds and his family was clearing the property when they got the phone call.

“They said come in the morning because we’re throwing everything out tomorrow. I did and I found 772 paintings and 4,500 drawings from the 1940s to the 1990s. They were in a terrible state due to the fire and I wasn’t sure what we had but when I looked properly my heart skipped beats. It was incredible.”

A gifted but intensely shy man, Joash won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in the 1950s, where his contemporaries included Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff. But he later suffered a nervous breakdown and returned to his devoted family. He continued to paint and draw in their two-up, two-down and the work piled up and was never shown.

Experts and the critics were equally excited by the find and Joash Woodrow is now highly collectable. He died in 2006 and Andrew and Gillian act as custodians of the work and continue to restore and date the 
collection.

They are staging a major exhibition of his best paintings at 108 in October.

Their vast, well-proportioned house is also perfect for displaying Joash’s abstracts. They bought the Georgian property in October 2010 after a long love affair with it.

“We knew the house because the owner was an art collector and we had lusted after it for 20 years. It’s a beautiful place full of faded grandeur.

“There was a flock of pigeons flying round inside, the roof was leaking and it was far more than we could really afford but we had to have it,” says Andrew.

The couple and their daughters Scarlett, 22, and India, 18, moved in with no heating and just one working electric socket. Their first Christmas day was interrupted by water pouring through the sitting room ceiling, though it didn’t dampen their love for the property.

They managed to get it water tight and have installed an Aga to help warm the space until they can sort out the central heating.

They have also decorated the ground floor, including the large reception rooms, which double as extra gallery space, and are working their way slowly through the other 27 rooms, which include nine in the basement.

As well as exhibitions at 108, they also open their home for events mixing art with music and performance.

Last summer the Scottish Philharmonic and musician/artist Edwyn Collins performed there.

“We got permission to use the ground floor as a gallery but we see it as an experimental space rather than a commercial endeavour,” says Andrew.

The house has also given him and Gillian, who met at art college in Dundee, an enormous work room where they restore and conserve paintings.

“I started out at art college thinking I was going to be a painter but I eventually realised that what I really enjoy is working with great talent and finding it. The wonderful thing about this job is that I have managed to meet some of my heroes, like Alan Davie and David Mach and we’ve found exciting new artists,” he says.

Though the house is full of art, furniture is thin on the ground.

“We haven’t got round to furnishing much yet. We bought paper lightshades, got some rugs at auction and we brought what we had in the old house,” says Andrew, who is in no rush to complete decorating the house.

“I reckon it might take another five years to renovate but we plan to be here forever. It’s the perfect place for us. It’s a home and place for art.”

108 Fine Art, 1 Crown Place, Harrogate, www.108fineart.com